Community Centered Neighborhood Development

By David Pittman, July 1, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

300 minutes for classroom activities and 120 minutes for homework


The purpose of this lesson is to engage students in the designing of their cultural landscape. My students, who live in a suburb of Atlanta, have complained about the constant development of strip malls in their community. This is especially problematic as many of the units in each strip mall sit vacant. The purpose of this project is to guide students through the design process with particular emphasis on research and interviews as a guide to meeting public demand. The goals of this project are to engage the students in the study of land use patterns, zoning ordinances, the design process, and presentation skills with the ultimate outcome being a plausible solution.  

National Standards

Geography Standard 1.  Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies 1. Understands the advantages and disadvantages of using maps from different sources and different points of view Standard 3.  Understands the characteristics and uses of spatial organization of Earth’s surface 1. Understands how concepts of spatial interaction 2. Understands relationships in and between places 3. Understands how characteristics such as age, sex, employment, and income level affect the way people perceive and use space 4. Understands principles of location Standard 6.  Understands that culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions 1. Understands why places and regions are important to individual human identity and as symbols for unifying or fragmenting society 2. Understands how individuals view places and regions on the basis of their stage of life, sex, social class, ethnicity, values, and belief systems Standard 11.  Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth’s surface 3. Understands the relationships between various settlement patterns, their associated economic activities, and the relative land values Standard 12.  Understands the patterns of human settlement and their causes 2. Knows the shape of cities in the United States and factors that influence urban morphology 5. Understands the physical and human impact of emerging urban forms in the present-day world

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to:
  • identify sites for development
  • research zoning regulations
  • address the needs of a community


Power of Place: Ethnic Fragmentation in Canada.  Video Series Episode #25 from Annenberg Media:  Computer lab time to research zoning ordinances at the county or city clerk’s Web site. (Note: If zoning ordinances are not online, you’ll need access to a land use map which should be relatively easy to get at city hall.) Design Process Sheet from Cooper-Hewitt Designer Community Interview Sheet Designer Community Analysis Sheet Feedback Form Project Goals Form    


  • Design Process Sheet from Cooper-Hewitt
  • Designer Community Interview Sheet
  • Designer Community Analysis Sheet
  • Feedback Form
  • Project Goals Form
  • paper
  • pencils


  • site: the intrinsic properties of a location
  • situation: describes a site in relation to the features around it
  • zoning: partitioning of a city into sections reserved for different purposes
  • gendered space: locations appealing to or identified by use predominantly by one particular gender
  • in-filling: new building on empty parcels of land within a checkerboard pattern of development
  • action space: parts of a city in which daily movement occurs
  • “City Beautiful” movement: design movement that strove to impart order on hectic industrial centers by creating urban spaces that conveyed a sense of morality and civic pride
  • suburbanization: movement to residential communities, located outside of city centers, that are usually relatively homogeneous in terms of population
  • urban sprawl: process of expansive suburban development over large areas spreading out from the city; tends to degrade the sense of community that people who live close to one another and close to their work tend to have


Prerequisite: This lesson should begin with a relatively simple homework assignment that might be best given over a weekend.  Without any significant prompting, the teacher should have students venture into their communities with a digital camera and take street view photographs of any vacant lots, old warehouses, or otherwise unoccupied buildings that they find in their community.  You may want to give more than a couple days for students to accomplish this and bring in the photos as it will be easier to present to the class if the images are all compiled neatly.  It would also be helpful to begin with the students in teams of three to four at this stage just to facilitate their group work early on. Day 1:  Review the Challenge 1. The teacher shows “Power of Place: Ethnic Fragmentation in Canada.”  While watching this documentary, students should take notes on the following phenomena: a) What specific actions are causing fragmentation? b) Is there anything legally wrong? Ethically wrong? c) What are the root causes of fragmentation? d) What plausible solutions can you think of to solve this fragmentation problem? 2.  After watching the documentary, the teacher should guide the students through a conversation of how cultural fragmentation is not necessarily rooted in illegal or immoral activity, but rather, in cultural assumptions.  In this case, there are assumptions by different groups on the nature of “appropriate land use.” 3.  Finish the lesson by looking at the photos of sites which might be possible for development. 4.  Have students casually propose any initial ideas for their site. Day 2: Review and Investigate 1.  Review with the students the Design Process by going over the Design Process Outline Sheet taken from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. 2.  On their own sheets of paper, have students brainstorm what information they may need to better know in order to tackle their design opportunity. 3.  Discuss the importance of Investigation in the design process.  The teacher should emphasize the role of fact finding through research, observations, documenting, and interviewing. 4.  Hand out the Designer-Community Interview Sheet.  Discuss the importance of community involvement in zoning ordinances and land use.  Easy correlations will be drawn to the “Power of Place” video the students watched the day before. 5.  Have students develop interview questions that, for homework, they will ask their peers. Day 3:  Investigate and Frame/Reframe the problem (in a computer lab) 1.  Yesterday students should have come up with the idea of zoning ordinances as limitations on construction.  They should also have a list of answers to their interview questions from five to ten people they interviewed the day before. 2.  In their teams, some students can research zoning laws (which are usually found on the county or city clerk’s Web site—otherwise see Resources above), while the other students can be analyzing the interview data with the Designer-Community Analysis Sheet. 3.  Given the legal requirements of their site and the input they received from their peers, how do the original ideas from Day 1 hold up?  What changes need to be made, what changes could be made, or what changes should be made? 4.  For homework, individuals should Generate three possible solutions. Day 4: Edit and Develop Ideas 1.  Student teams review the ideas generated by their team members. 2.  Using any available resources, students model, sketch, diagram, write down any ideas they have that they can develop. 3.  Each team should come up with at least two possible solutions. 4.  At the end of class, students should Share their solutions to get feedback from other students and Evaluate the work of others.  (Note: Depending on time, it might be most beneficial to allow one team member to stay at the team’s station with copies of the Design Feedback Form, while other members roam to other stations providing the feedback.) Day 5:  Finalize 1.  Today is a work day to finalize the project and Project Goals Form. Day 6:  Articulate 1.  Students present their project in relation to the Project Goals Form.


The typed responses to the Project Goals Form would count for 25% of the grade.  The three homework assignments count 25%. The actual design will count the other 50%.  (See Attached Rubric.)    

Enrichment Extension Activities

If available, it would be interesting to actually engage a land owner, a city councilmen, or other vested citizen in the process for their feedback and input.

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